What Are Pictograms? (And How To Make One)


What is a pictogram?

Pictograms are a popular data visualizations in news publications, blogs and popular media...but not everyone knows that what they’re looking at is called a “pictogram".

This guide will walk you through how to create a pictogram using Venngage, and the Do’s and Don’ts of pictogram design.

Pictograms (also known as “pictographs”) are essentially images that are used to represent data. They are usually a simplified representation of a concept, with a unicolored flat design. Pictograms are ideal for designers because they can give a snapshot of quantity and volume in a visually impactful way.



These little graphics are distinct from icons in that icons are a singular unit or embellishment, while pictograms are usually used in groups to represent a data set.


How to make a pictogram using Venngage

Venngage offers a database of over 10,000 different icons. There are two kinds of pictograms you can create with Venngage. One is a classic pictogram, and the other is an icon chart.


Classic Pictogram

To create a classic pictogram, open the pictogram library in Venngage. Search the kind of icons you would like to use in your pictogram or browse through the different categories.

pictogram image 1


You can now adjust the number of icons per row and column. If you’re showing a standard percentage out of 100, you can simply do 10 x 10 icons.


pictogram image 2


Now adjust the Unit Count. The number you choose should be the percentage you want to highlight (i.e. the units that will appear on top of the remaining units).


pictogram image 3


You could use two contrasting colors like the default colors in the previous screen cap, but it is generally more clear to use two shades of the same color, a darker shade for the percentage you want to highlight and a lighter shade for the remaining units. You can do this by simply adjusting the opacity of the remaining units.


pictogram image 4


Don’t forget to add a title and to source your data! The final product:


classic pictogram 1


Icon Chart

 An icon chart is an icon depicting a percentage through its color fill. To create an icon chart, search for an icon using the icon library. Drag it into your workspace and adjust the Color Fill and opacity of the secondary color.

pictogram image 11
Label the percentage in your icon chart, since readers won’t be able to determine the exact percentage from just looking at the icon. Use the text tab to pull a speech bubble into your workspace.

pictogram image 5
 The finished product:



When to use a pictogram

Pictograms can be very fun and effective additions to your infographics or on their own, as long as you use them the right way. Here are situations where you should use a pictogram.


Simple data series

 Pictograms are not effective for visualizing large sets of data. In those cases, a bar chart is more effective. But for a few simple data series, pictograms are a visually engaging way to present information.


Show a tally

This could apply to data  from survey results, sales units, or anything quantitative.

pictogram tally


Compare data

If you want to contrast two percentages, a pictogram will emphasize the difference (or lack of difference) in a visually impactful way.

comparison pictogram


Pictogram design best practices

 Choose the right icons

 Simple, symmetrical icons without many details are the best for pictograms. This is because they’ll still be visible when used in multiples, effectively showing the data instead of obscuring it. Icons that are too detailed will just distract readers from the data.

 pictogram image 10

Icons that roughly fit into a square are perfect.

house pictogram


Avoid using partial icons

 Partial icons are more likely to confuse readers than make data easier to understand. Keep in mind that pictograms are meant to create a snapshot of the data. The only exception to this rule is square icons, as they are easy to understand, even when cut into only a sliver. 


Use one icon in various shades

Rather than using two different symbols or different colors, use one symbol in different shades of the same color so that readers can more easily compare and contrast the data. 


Don’t use irregular shapes to compare quantitative information

 For example, don’t use an icon of a person and then stretch a second icon of a person bigger to compare population sizes. It’s too difficult for readers to draw accurate comparisons between irregular shapes.

big person little person

Also, don’t use different versions of a symbol to depict variables. This will confuse readers and distract them from the data itself. Rather, use the same symbol and label each variable. 


Always label data points

Readers won’t be able to interpret an accurate percentage from the pictogram alone, so label your percentages.


Further reading

The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics: Information Graphics: The Dos and Don'ts of Presenting Data, Facts, and Figures by Dona M. Wong

How and When to use Pictograms